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Archive for Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Senate committee endorses agroterrorism bill

January 29, 2002

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— A bill making it a felony to attack the state's crops or its food supply won the endorsement Tuesday of the Senate Agriculture Committee after members expanded its scope.

The proposal represents the first major anti-terrorism legislation in Kansas this year. A special six-member committee reviewed security issues after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in Washington and New York City.

The agriculture committee's unanimous voice vote sent the bill to the Senate, which could debate the legislation next week.

"When you're ground zero for a potential attack of bioterrorism, you must do whatever you can to protect farmers and ranchers and the citizens of Kansas," said Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, a committee member.

The state already has a law making it a crime to expose livestock to an infectious disease or bring infected livestock into the state. Enacted last year, that statute was a response to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Europe.

The bill would expand that law, and the idea so far has faced little opposition. Some legislators worry that terrorists could cripple the economy by making crops unmarketable or introducing diseases into food.

"I'm not a good anticipator, so it's hard for me to visualize what this tragedy would be like," said Sen. Christine Downey, D-Newton. "To be responsible, given the past few months, we have to put these things in place."

Under the bill, intentionally exposing crops, animal feed or processed food to an infectious disease would result in a prison sentence. For a person with no criminal record, it would be between five years and eight months and six years and seven months.

If such actions resulted in someone's death, the person responsible could be sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder.

A person could be prosecuted and sentenced to between seven and nine months on probation for unknowingly exposing crops, feed or food to an infectious disease.

The bill originally added plants to the livestock law, but committee members didn't think it was broad enough. They rewrote the bill to cover animal feed and processed food.

Chairman Derek Schmidt said that when legislators reviewed the livestock law last year, they thought it might cover food. The more they examined it, though the less certain they became, he said.

"We don't think it should be a gray area," said Schmidt, R-Independence.

The law passed in 2001 also established procedures for declaring an outbreak of disease to be a disaster, triggering powers of the governor, livestock officials and emergency management agencies.

Kansas is one of only five states to have provisions for dealing with such disease outbreaks.

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